Imperial Legacy
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 1 Oct 1970, p. 27-42
Hughes, The Hon. Mr. Justice S.H.S., Speaker
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Item Type
A distinction between Toryism and Imperialism in Canada. The Alaska Boundary dispute with the United States, the disappointing settlement achieved by arbitration in 1903, and the relationship of this issue to the formation of the Empire Club. Some results of this dispute and its settlement. Britain's imperial organization after the first World War. Canada attempting to cut imperial ties. Feelings and events after the second World War. Rapid changes in world politics. An examination of a paper given by Donald Creighton of the University of Toronto, 20 years ago, at the Canadian Historical Association in Kingston, and a quote about Macdonald's view of foreign policy. The policy of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The passing of the traditional Canadian foreign policy of Macdonald's making, again in Mr. Creighton's words. NATO and NORAD. Changes since the speaker heard this address by Mr. Creighton. The fact that British imperialism is dead. Some remarks on what is left to us out of "all that panoply and power." The heritage of language and literature, of law and order. The extent to which we are all imperialists. A new spirit of Canadian nationalism.
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1 Oct 1970
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Full Text
OCTOBER 1, 1970
Imperial Legacy
CHAIRMAN The President, Harold V. Cranfield

GRACE Canon the Rev. H. M. Bedford-Jones


Honourable Sirs, Reverend Sir, and gentlemen of the Empire Club, our speaker before reaching his 21st birthday had earned his first university degree. I am pleased that he was in such a hurry for it exposed me to his warm personality and ready wit at Trinity College where by his hasty progress we became contemporaries. He was a debater of excellence both there and while representing the University of Toronto. In 1936 he and that other great debater Sydney M. Hermant received the judges' verdict in their favour on the ever popular subject of women's equality to men. The issue was worded--"Resolved that special legislation for women is preferable to equal rights." The sex of their opponents from the University of Western Ontario is not recorded.

Even in those days our speaker was not a one-sided man for he earned his recognition in sports while sitting in the back of the bus. He was Cox to the University of Toronto rowing team. Twenty-seven years ago on October 7th that team won the Intercollegiate boat race. Larry Skey was an oarsman of that illustrious crew.

Our speaker holds two degrees from Oxford--one Pre' and one Post' World War II. He read law with L. B. Spencer, K.C. I am not clear as to whether he met Mr. L. B. Spencer's daughter before or after he entered her father's office. He, however, had the good sense to persuade her to become Mrs. Hughes.

He wrote a fine book about his outstanding and controversial grandfather titled, "Sir Sam Hughes and the Problems of Imperialism." He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1955 and about that time became the first chairman of the Ontario Transport Board. Elevated to the bench of the Supreme Court in 1958 the following year he became Chairman of the Civil Services Commission, which experience he reported to our club in an address on April 28th, 1960.

More recently he completed a monumental task with the Royal Commission investigating the affairs of Atlantic Acceptance Corporation. His wise recommendations resulting from this will unquestionably avert a similar threat to future Canadian economy.

Presently he is a judge in the High Court of Justice at Osgoode Hall. He generously accepted my invitation to give this, the opening address of the 1970-71 season of the Empire Club and he has chosen as a title, "Imperial Legacy", to the preservation of which he and his forbears have devoted lives of service. Gentlemen, The Honourable Mr. Justice Samuel Harvey Shirecliffe Hughes.


In 1950, I had the privilege of reading a paper to the Canadian Historical Association at its Annual Meeting in Kingston, on the subject of "Sir Sam Hughes and the Problem of Imperialism". There was a certain amount of good-humoured resignation at this effort by a layman and a descendant, but in the course of the discussion which followed it Professor A. R. M. Lower of Queen's University, said that I had revealed a real distinction between Toryism and Imperialism in Canada. In his opinion, Canadian Tories had a nostalgic view of the past, while Imperialists were people whom the present scene never satisfies. However apt this comment may have been about Canadian Tories, it was incontestably true of Imperialists in Canada and indeed all over the British Empire in the days when this Club was founded and for almost forty years thereafter. In response to my enquiries about the origin of the Club, you told me, Mr. President, that it was the outcome of concern felt in Toronto about the Alaska Boundary dispute with the United States and the disappointing settlement achieved by arbitration in 1903. That was not an arbitration in the strict sense of that term, but rather an adjudication conducted by three British Commissioners of whom two were Canadian, and three from the United States, to decide the effect of an earlier Anglo-Russian treaty in which the boundary between Russian America and Canada had been provisionally described. You will recall that the American Commissioners, instructed in advance by President Theodore Roosevelt not to concede an inch, refused all compromise on the critical issues and eventually the deadlock was broken by Lord Alverstone, the Lord Chief Justice of England, siding with them against his Canadian colleagues. As a result, British Columbia and the Yukon north of the Queen Charlotte Islands were, for all practical purposes, shut off from the Pacific Ocean and Canadian resentment was equally directed against the use of the big stick by the Americans and the desertion of the English Commissioner to their side. Canadians were unpleasantly reminded of the unofficial sponsor ship of the Fenian raids by their powerful southern neighbour and of the barefaced manipulation of maps by the Americans which thrust the boundary of Maine northward almost to the St. Lawrence River by the terms of the Ashburton Treaty in 1842. The concern which they felt at the time when this Club was founded just two years after the conclusion of the south African War and a year after the Alaska Boundary decision produced a heightened interest in imperial problems, particularly that of defence, gave a fresh impetus to militia training and resulted not only in the foundation of the Empire Club of Canada but of the many Round Table Clubs inspired by that indefatigable writer and lecturer on the realities of the British Empire, Lionel Curtis, who had worked with Lord Milner, John Buchan, Lionel Hichens and others on the post-war settlement in South Africa. This period, during which the unsatisfied Imperialists, to use Dr. Lower's illustration, were attempting to marshal the diffuse anxieties and enthusiasms throughout the British Empire created first by the South African War and heightened and prolonged by the expansionist naval policy of the German Empire, lasted until the outbreak of the Great War of 1914 when all such speculation was put to a stern and practical test.

After that war was over, the imperial organization which had enabled Britain to draw men and materials into the conflict from around the world appeared to be as stable and impressive as ever. Its victorious conclusion had been presided over by an Imperial War Cabinet containing representatives of all the self-governing dominions and the first step towards the dream of Imperial Federation had apparently been taken. When the prized and useful Anglo-Japanese alliance was abandoned in 1921, largely as a result of the representations of Canada prompted by the United States, it appeared that the principle of imperial partnership with an equal voice for each partner, had been strikingly exemplified. But new and hostile forces were at work. The spirit of nationalism sedulously cultivated as a weapon for use against the Central Powers worked against the spirit of imperial unity. The tide of emotional support which had buoyed up the Imperial Federationists so strongly after the South African War was setting in the opposite direction as the victorious but stricken states of the British Empire contemplated with horror the slaughter of their youth. "Never again" was the cry raised but a short twenty years before another generation was to march into the shambles. The romance and trappings of Empire which had appealed so strongly in the past to that generation which had almost perished were looked upon by its survivors and successors with something approaching distaste.

This reaction brought to the fore in Canada men and opinions long active in Canadian political life. With the publicly proclaimed intention of increasing this country's independent stature and lessening its dependence upon Great Britain, they worked steadily if not always consciously towards the cutting of all imperial ties, using the League of Nations and our close economic relations with the United States as make-weights particularly in the field of foreign policy. The Ottawa Agreements of 1932 which gave a realistic and reciprocal character to the Imperial Preference and powerfully assisted the recovery of Canadian trade in the depths of the great depression were to some extent a set-back. The new direction, however, was never strongly resisted at the centre of the Empire itself, where increasing economic burdens and strong political convictions traditionally hostile to the idea of imperial aggrandisement in any form had produced internal pressures of a sympathetic nature. It could not be said, however, that anything like a Cause had been created in Canada and the impulse towards an isolated nationalism was intellectual rather than emotional. Once again, all speculation was swept away by a second world war in which the affinities of all the British nations were fortified by a deeply-shared loathing of the common enemy.

This time the realities as well as the ideals of Empire were largely swept away. The liquidation on a vast scale for the second time in a quarter of a century of Britain's investments overseas in order to buy war materials from the United States proceeded apace long before the conclusion of the Lease-Lend agreements stanched the flow of her economic life blood. When the war was over, once more victorious, but once again exhausted after a struggle in the early stages of which she barely escaped subjugation, her people descried across the waste of war a scene with which they had been unfamiliar for almost three hundred years. Two states of the greatest magnitude, both eventually armed with the deadliest weapons ever manufactured for war, confronted each other in menacing guise surrounded by their allies. In the business of acquiring allies, the rulers of the United States were much more successful than those of Soviet Russia, and have been a great deal nicer to them. Twice the Soviet armies have had to march, once into Hungary and once into Czechoslovakia to remind the signatories of the Warsaw Pact that its benefits are all one-sided. No such heavy forfeit was required of General de Gaulle when he led France out of NATO. Indeed the structure of this alliance like that of its companion, the South-East Asia Treaty Organization, illustrates only too well what has happened to the British Commonwealth and Empire in the twenty-five years following the victorious and united effort of the Second World War. Britain and Canada are members of NATO; Britain, Australia and New Zealand of SEATO. India, no longer a jewel in the Imperial Crown but still a member of the Commonwealth, adopts what she calls a neutralist policy which to the untutored eye seems to mean taking from both sides and giving to neither. The African members of the Commonwealth seem to regard it as a convenient forum for the exchange of recriminations and South Africa and Rhodesia whose contributions to the Imperial Forces in both the great wars of our time should not be forgotten, lie outside it and under the ban of the nations for finding unacceptable solutions to problems of a serious and perplexing nature.

I must not and shall not dwell upon this altered scene at length. It is a tedious peculiarity of aging men and women that they dwell fondly upon the customs and recollections of their youth and excite the impatience and perhaps the disdain of their younger contemporaries. But even a trained historian must marvel at the rapid changes in world politics which have occurred in the lifetime of many of us here. Britain was a province of the Roman Empire for over four hundred years and an outpost province at that. It took the Anglo-Saxons another four hundred years to conquer it and erase most of the traces of that long association with the Eternal City. If we retrace our steps in history four hundred years from now, we find England not yet mistress of Scotland and still nearly twenty years away from the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Where we sit today white pine rose a hundred feet into the clean air. What is it about the modern age which makes change so swift and catastrophic and human memory so short and uncomprehending?

Let me return for a moment to that meeting of the Canadian Historical Association in Kingston, just twenty years ago. The climax of the session was a paper read by Professor Donald Creighton of the University of Toronto called "Sir John Macdonald and Kingston". It is full of good things written in that lively, racy style with which most English-speaking households in Canada are now familiar. It was not so familiar then and provided a vivid contrast to the prevailing school of Canadian historical writing--careful, studious and mistrustful of the use of language as a stimulus to thought. Creighton's theme--it seems obvious now--was that Macdonald was a true Canadian Nationalist who regarded the British Empire as a nursery of free nations and believed that the British provinces could only find their destiny as a united nation by maintaining allegiance to the Crown, adherence to the British form of government and by drawing heavily upon the credit of the British Empire in trade, defence and foreign policy. He saw Kingston, in its dependence upon the commerce and strategic importance of the St. Lawrence River and its strong Loyalist tradition, as a distinct influence upon the young politician who represented it with growing influence and authority and marshalled the eastern part of Upper Canada to resist and finally to defeat the plans of the United States to annex Canada and the political influence of those pro-Republican elements in Toronto and the West which would have welcomed annexation with open arms. But I must not try to paraphrase. Listen to what Donald Creighton wrote about Macdonald's view of foreign policy:

"It sometimes seems to be assumed by the able army of bureaucrats who at present direct our external relations that up until the fortunate moment of their own arrival at the East Block in Ottawa, Canada had, in fact, no foreign policy at all. This assumption is perhaps not altogether unnatural since our modern corps of diplomatists was mainly recruited after the virtual abandonment of the only great historic foreign policy which Canada has ever had. That policy was the creation of Macdonald; and its prime object was the secure establishment of a new nationality, autonomous within the British Empire and separate and distinct on the North American continent. Canada, Macdonald reasoned, was--and for a long time would remain--too weak to stand alone; and the basic condition of its survival and growth toward self-sufficiency was a relative balance of power within the English-speaking world. Of the two imperialisms, American and British, with which we had to deal, the former was by far the more dangerous. After 1783 the United States was the only expansive force on the North American continent. There was always the acute embarrassment of its proximity; and, after the Civil War, the further danger of its conscious power. To meet that danger, to maintain the balance of power by which alone it could be met with success, the British connection was necessary, for the British connection was, in essence, simply an Anglo-Canadian entente. By the Anglo-Canadian entente, Macdonald hoped to escape the peril of North American continentalism until, at last, Canada might stand alone."

Although Professor Creighton did not mention it, and indeed it was not relevant to his discussion, there is no doubt in my mind that this was also the policy of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. It is not always remembered that it was Laurier who ordered the replacement of the Canadian Red Ensign by the Union Jack as Canada's national flag. There was something mystical about Laurier's view of Canada's place in the British Empire which contrasted with Macdonald's hardheadedness. Lovers of paradox might say that if Macdonald was a Nationalist who ended by sounding like an Imperialist, Laurier was an Imperialist who out of office and in his declining years, sounded like a Nationalist. Yet, Laurier's latter day nationalism was exploited by a new breed of political theorists in Canada with which Professor Creighton faithfully deals and I shall resort to him again. Speaking of the passing of this traditional Canadian foreign policy of Macdonald's making, he said:

"That pious labour of destruction was the work of the Canadian nationalists of the nineteen-twenties and thirties. For two decades they presented themselves proudly to enraptured Canadian audiences as the real defenders of Canadian nationalism. Publicly they abominated imperialism. Publicly, with eyes lifted to heaven, they aspired to autonomy. These declarations were extremely solemn; they were, no doubt, in many cases, completely sincere. But, whether they deceived themselves or not, the nationalists certainly misled a considerable section of the Canadian people. For in their nationalist crusade there was a large element of North Americanism. North America is not a nation but a continent; and the continentalism which was latent in all of them was open and blatantly avowed in some just as it was in their spiritual father, Goldwin Smith. What they disliked was the wrong type of imperialism--that is, British imperialism; but for the right type of imperialism that is, American imperialism--they seem to have had nothing but the highest approval. And when, in the summer of 1940, at the first sign of real danger to Great Britain, Canada instantly and openly reversed this historic policy of the Anglo-Canadian entente the nationalists greeted the Ogdensburg agreement with either quiet satisfaction or rapturous delight. To the eyes of a historian, the Ogdensburg agreement, with its subsequent extensions and confirmations, looks like an old-fashioned military alliance, so old-fashioned, indeed, that its like has never been seen on the North American continent before. Without definite time limits, and without any very precise conditions, provisoes, or declared purposes, it appears to rest on the assumption that mere geographic proximity means absolute and eternal identity of interest."

The result, of course, was not only NATO but NORAD and much else besides. Creighton concluded as follows:

"In June, 1951, it will be sixty years since Macdonald died. His portrait on the wall of the Memorial Hall in the Kingston Municipal Buildings makes him look astonishingly alive, but in many ways nobody could be more dead and forgotten than he .... All I have tried to do is to recall him to your attention. Nowadays it is fashionable to talk about curtains, iron curtains and gold curtains; and it sometimes seems as if there is a curtain, thick and impenetrable, which separates us from our Canadian past. I have attempted to lift that curtain for a moment, in order to give you a glimpse of Macdonald, and of the Kingston in which his views and hopes were shaped. But, like a sensible showman, I realize that the play is now played out; and, pending a revival, I ring down the curtain once again."

The curtain was not to stay down long because little more than two years later the author was to give to a delighted public the first volume of his great life of Sir John A. Macdonald which, in my respectful opinion, set not only new standards in Canadian historical writing, but gave Canadians a new pride and interest in their country's history and literature.

Reading this paper over again after a lapse of twenty years, what strikes me most forcibly about it, quite apart from its style and content, is the fact that the light is beginning to darken on that scene in Kingston in 1950 which I recall so vividly. Those were the days of Korea and we are now living in the days of Vietnam for which no Canadian medals are being worn. The old alignment is still there and the old alliances, even if not entirely intact. The enemy is the same. Of course, there have been far-reaching changes. We have entered the space age and the light of the achievements of the two super-powers in the exploration of space reflects on us all. New members have blasted their way into the nuclear club. The ideological partnership of Russia and China appears to have been dissolved and although our border with the United States is still long and unguarded, it is now being suggested in accents of growing irritability that the Ogdensburg agreement is not the unmixed blessing that it was once thought to be. Is another curtain, thick and impenetrable, descending between us where we stand today and where we stood twenty years ago? Do we, for instance, still understand the lessons and language of the Cold War? Or have we wrapped them all up in cotton wool and put them away in a dark corner hoping that they will never be again dragged out to confront us in all their hard reality?

I have entitled these observations which you have been kind enough to listen to the "Imperial Legacy". Strictly speaking, a legacy is a gift of personal property by will and what is actually left is known as a bequest. Perhaps I should have used this word, but in any event there is no doubt that British imperialism, as we knew it in our youth and as our fathers knew it, is dead, and I propose to touch briefly on what is left to us out of all that panoply and power. Let us make no mistake about it, the idea of British imperialism had a powerful effect upon the thoughts of our forefathers. To most of them of British race, it was the natural order of things and they welcomed it all the more because it was a masculine and dignified alternative to British colonialism. Stephen Leacock once said "I am an Imperialist because I refuse to be a Colonial." Others, and particularly many of those who were not of British race, did not draw this distinction and could have logically maintained that the disadvantages of colonialism were due to the Imperialist mentality dominant in London. But there was nothing servile about the Imperialists in Canada; a Canadian was as good as an Englishman any day and probably better because in the days of the American Revolution he had fought hard to keep the British flag flying and he had fought hard to subdue the wilderness and the wild men and animals who were there before him. Were we not all British subjects and who were the popinjays at home to call us Colonials? Let them open their doors and their professions and enterprises to their virile brethren overseas and the Empire would be more practical and more powerful than ever. Many of the Canadian heroes of those days were people to whom these doors had indeed been opened. As Macdonald foresaw, this spirit has survived and has played its part in making Canada a vigorous and independent nation. It belonged mainly to people who looked upon the bright side of the British connection and it was constructive rather than iconoclastic. Moreover, the sense of belonging to a great imperial community was a powerful force in enabling us to resist the smothering effect of our close proximity to the United States.

As to our heritage of language and literature, I shall make only one observation on the two grounds that I am not competent to make more and that there seems to me to be only one that is relevant to my theme. British soldiers, sailors, administrators, merchants and ministers of religion have spread it far and wide around the world and into lands where the flag no longer flies or never flew. In the last fifty years the use and currency of English has vastly increased as any traveller of long experience can testify. Here in Canada we are doubly blest and every effort is being rightly made to make those of us whose mother's tongue is not French familiar with that beautiful and expressive language and all the literary treasures which it enshrines. Here again, as no historian will deny, the preservation of the French language and culture in Canada is part of the imperial legacy of which I speak and had Montgomery and Benedict Arnold won the day in 1775 absorption and dispersal of this treasure would have been the result. There may be some disadvantages to having English as one's mother tongue in the sense that life is altogether too easy. Knowledge of more than one language is generally the possession--and a proud possession it is--of those who have made a virtue out of necessity. Still the possession of English has smoothed our path around the world and we can talk in familiar terms with men of many differing climes and origins.

Finally, I come to the subject of law and order, first of all severally and then jointly. In Canada, we owe the law of England in general to the expansion of the island race, as Winston Churchill always called it, and in particular to the Loyalists who, unwilling to abandon their British allegiance, forsook their material possessions in the revolted American colonies and flocked in thousands to the wildernesses of Upper Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. They had their own peculiarities: for instance they preferred to wear their own hair. That is why judges and barristers in Canada, unlike most of the countries in which the law of England persists, do not wear wigs. This is a disappointment to many sightseers, but those who do stray into the courts will find few other differences from the atmosphere which prevails in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, Nigeria, India and a multitude of islands and territories around the globe which are still or were formerly part of the British Empire. I do not think anyone would seriously dispute that the atmosphere and appearance of the courts in the United States, however similar the law and language, are in many respects very different from our own. Our way of administering justice in Canada, long preserved for us under the Imperial Crown and jealously guarded by our people, is more formal, more agreeable, swifter and more precise than anything that prevails in the United States today and it is our duty as well as our interest to keep it so. I am not suggesting that all this is due to the British example, but I am sure that it has had a profound effect and that as the customs and conduct of British justice have become more liberal and more humane, ours have kept in step. Anyone who is familiar with the changes in our statute books knows how powerful that example has always been. Then, as to order. Under this head I would place public administration generally, not simply police procedure and law enforcement, although these are a very important part of public administration. The great development of the British Civil Service with its remarkable independence of political control and its high standards of competence and integrity dates from the middle of the last century or at the beginning of that period of highest awareness of Britain's imperial mission. It coincided roughly with the taking over of the Government of India by the Crown from the East India Company and the assumption by Queen Victoria of the imperial title. The Crimean War and the Indian mutiny had disclosed some remarkable weaknesses in civil administration both in the United Kingdom and abroad and in very short order and with startling results this house was put in order. Again we in Canada followed suit, but somewhat slowly because the tradition of political patronage was very strong. Our great landmark was the Civil Service Act of 1918. In the United States the process of establishing a professional and impartial civil service has proceeded much more slowly and even now there is a great changing of the guard across the country when either the Republican or the Democratic Party is ousted by the electorate. Law and order customarily go hand in hand and they are real partners, not to be mocked at or abused, but to be cherished by men of good will. At the risk of sounding mystical on the subject, I am certain in my own mind that the great symbolic majesty and purity of the Crown is such a powerful influence on those engaged in formulating, administering and maintaining our laws as on those who live under them and obey them, that it can never be safely replaced, and I make that statement with the utmost sincerity and with no apology in the hearing of members of this Club. To put it at its very lowest, it is more difficult to do dishonest and discreditable work or simply not to do one's duty as the sworn servant of a Sovereign who commands loyalty, affection and regard.

To return then to Professor Lower's epigram with which I began, a nostalgic view of the past--Tory or not--may be a sign of weakness, but dissatisfaction with the present scene is consistent with vigilance and progress. To that extent we are all imperialists, whatever empires we hope to build. Yet no one can safely ignore the prodigious labours of the past any more than a mountain climber as he ascends can refrain from looking backwards and downwards to note the landmarks which have marked his passage and on which his future safety may depend. A new spirit of Canadian nationalism is abroad which owes nothing to either Macdonald or Goldwin Smith. Its slogan is "Canada for Canadians" and the tone is a little strident, the emphasis a little chauvinistic. The accent belongs neither to Laurier nor Mackenzie King. It may be that on the crest of this new wave, we will rise to new heights of development as a nation, or it may be that we will only have more difficulty borrowing money. Whatever befalls, I hope we will look back at the landmarks and remember the way that has been trod, if only to apply our experience and commonsense to the way ahead. You may recall a well-known remark of Goldwin Smith's which went something like this: "I would like to see my country behave towards other nations as an English gentleman behaves towards other men." In my student days a recitation of this sent us all into shrieks of laughter as an example of what an awful snob he was. But on reflection, I feel a little foolish about all that hilarity. Canada has, after all, won golden opinions among the nations for fairness and lack of prejudice. Our way has been the way of moderation, of compromise, of considering other points of view. That is our heritage in a nutshell. Be it so.

The gratitude of the Club was expressed by Mr. Sydney Hermant.

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Imperial Legacy

A distinction between Toryism and Imperialism in Canada. The Alaska Boundary dispute with the United States, the disappointing settlement achieved by arbitration in 1903, and the relationship of this issue to the formation of the Empire Club. Some results of this dispute and its settlement. Britain's imperial organization after the first World War. Canada attempting to cut imperial ties. Feelings and events after the second World War. Rapid changes in world politics. An examination of a paper given by Donald Creighton of the University of Toronto, 20 years ago, at the Canadian Historical Association in Kingston, and a quote about Macdonald's view of foreign policy. The policy of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The passing of the traditional Canadian foreign policy of Macdonald's making, again in Mr. Creighton's words. NATO and NORAD. Changes since the speaker heard this address by Mr. Creighton. The fact that British imperialism is dead. Some remarks on what is left to us out of "all that panoply and power." The heritage of language and literature, of law and order. The extent to which we are all imperialists. A new spirit of Canadian nationalism.